City Land For Song
Property, Now Valuable, Sold for 1 Cent a Foot
Near Printing Bureau
Was Called “No Man’s Land” in Ancient Days
Once Used for Cattle Pen
President John Quincy Adams Sold Three Lots to
George Johnson in 1832
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 9, 1908 [pt. 4, p. 1]
That part of Washington north of D street south and west of 12th street west, the subject of a former article, is not devoid of a history, for though slowly settled not a few of the residents were noted in the old days, and in the property were some well known people interested as investors. Between B and D streets, 12th street and the river, was a part of the farm of Notley Young, one of the proprietors of the land taken for the Capital city, and in this space were platted eight squares for building purposes, and a point formed by the lines of 15th street and the river was included in the public reservation known as the Mall. The land northward and eastward from the river and D street was originally of gentle ascent, slightly rolling and for a long time it retained rural characteristics so few were the settlers and the necessity for public improvement was so long in coming. It is true that before the war of 1812 there was erected on 14th street a fine building, but it was for a long time more a comfortable country seat in appearance than a city home, surrounded as it was with quarters, stabling, lawn and garden. Access to the central portion of the city was by Maryland avenue and 12th street. For very many years the latter was carried over the Tiber by a bridge. But in the thirties, when the walls of the canal were continued west of that point and a bridge was built at 14th street that neighborhood began to grow.
Regarded as "No Man's Land"
The ground west of the bureau of engraving and printing, included in the Mall bounded by the river shore, B and 15th streets, was down to the time of the civil war regarded as "no man's land." It then became a part of the great cattle pen maintained by the government. Since then good use has been made of it, for here are the propagating gardens and the storehouses under Col. Bromwell, in charge of public buildings and grounds. It would appear that the site of the bureau of engraving and printing, square 231, was looked on as an attractive one by the pioneers, for James Greenleaf, W.M. Duncanson and James Ray each owned it between 1796 and 1800. There were eighteen lots facing B, C, 14th and 15th streets in the division; three on the northeast corner of the square were in the name of Samuel Ellery in 1800 and four on 15th street belonging to Daniel Carroll. Two cents a foot was the first valuation of all the eight squares, but it fell to 1 cent in 1807. J.P. Crawford owned three-fourths of the square in 1804 and four years after John Moyland owned two lots on 14th street. John Quincy Adams owned three lots on B street in 1818 and in 1832 sold them to George Johnson. In 1833 Walter Clarke owned 14th street property which he afterward sold to William Morrow. There are no records of improvements up to that time, but the ground had appreciated to 3 cents.
Home of Mr. Young's Descendants
The square south, between C, D, 14th and 15th streets, No. 232, was platted for twenty-two lots in 1797, being vested in the original proprietor, Mr. Young, and for years it was owned by his descendants. Mrs. Ann Cazanave was the owner and occupant of the house, which was built about 1812, and as already said was an attractive place. From her the title passed to her daughter and husband, Maj. Parke G. Howle of the United States marines. During the residence of the latter it was not unknown to the society life of Washington. In time the great granddaughters of Mr. Young assisted their mother in the entertainment of their friends. The valuation of the ground had appreciated to 8 cents a foot in 1830 and the improvements were listed at $5,000.
The square between 13-1/2, 14th, B and C streets, known as 263, in which are now many houses rented and used for office purposes by the Department of Agriculture, was divided into twenty-four lots between Daniel Carroll and the government 1798; the former taking the west half of the square and the government the east half. One-third of the lots in 1798 were owned by Robert J. Brent, and three years after three lots on 13-1/2 street had passed from Samuel Blodgett to Dr. Wm. Thornton. The amount due for taxes was easily found, a cent a foot being assessed for about twenty years and in 1830 the maximum was 5 cents. In 1817 the east half of lot 1, at the northwest corner of 13-1/2 and C streets, had passed to J.W. Smith and later to Thomas Carberry. Shortly after Mayor Thomas H. Gillis had lot 23 on 13-1/2 street in 1817, which, through L.J. Gillis, went two years later to Joseph Taylor and on it a $400 house was erected.
Capt. Peter Lenox owned three lots at 13-1/2 and B streets. In 1827 John Eyre had a lot on C street and in 1828 Elkanah Waters and Wm. Wilson owned lot 1, corner of 13-1/2 and C streets, the latter being taxed for a $600 house shortly after. In 1830 Jesse Fletcher took the lease of lot 9 on 14th street. At the same time A. Shepherd and R. Semmes owned lot 21 on 13-1/2 street, when $800 and $200 improvements were listed. W.G.W. White owned at the corner of 14th and B streets, lots 11 to 15 in 1833, Walter Clark afterward buying lot 12. In the southwest corner of the square E. Stevens bought lots 6, 7 and 8.
Fall in Real Estate Values
The sixteen lots of square 265, south of the above, between C, D, 13-1/2 and 14th streets, in 1797 were in Mr. Young's name. The valuation of lots dropped from 2 to 1 cent and did not reach 5 cents until 1830. Long before, however, an improvement of $1,000 was listed in Mrs. Cazanave. In 1826 C. McWilliams owned lots 1 and 2, the southeast corner of the square, which afterward went to Mrs. Cazanave. Wm. McL. Cripps in 1831 owned lot 4 on D street, and in 1836 John A. Wilson owned lots 5 and 6, the southwest corner of the square.
Division of Square 264
The east half of square 264, between B, C, 13th and 13-1/2 streets, in 1796 went to Mr. Carroll, the west half to the government. In 1799 E. Plowden owned at the corner of 13-1/2 and C streets lots 3, 4 and 5; in 1800 Wm. Brent lots 12 to 14, including the corner of 13-1/2 and B streets and Solomon Etting, the intervening lots 6 to 11 on 13-1/2 street. One cent a foot was the value of the ground until 1820, when it rose to 5 cents. Josiah Miliard bought lot 13, corner of 13-1/2 and B streets in 1820 and erected a home valued at $1,600 and lived here some years. In 1827 John Eyre owned three lots south of Mr. Miliard's. In 1830 Walter Clarke owned two lots and William McCauley one lot on 13-1/2 street. There were listed three houses to Mr. Clarke, $2,400; Mr. McCauley, $2,300 and W.H. Gunnell, $1,200.
In 1835 Mr. Clarke owned lots 1 and 2 corner 13th and C streets; William Douglas, 15 to 18, including the corner of 13th and B streets, and soon after John P. Murphy bought lots 16 to 18.
Square Taken by Government
The square south, No. 266, between C, D, 13th and 13-1/2 streets of twenty lots, went as a whole to the United States in 1796, and for twenty years the names of Greenleaf, Law and Morris & Nicholson were associated therewith. Apparently there was nothing doing here other than charging up a cent a foot valuation on the assessment books. About 1818, however, there was a settlement made upon it, the title going to Joseph Pearson, and soon after a seven-hundred-dollar house was built, facing 13th street. Eight years after a subdivision was made. In 1831 P.M. Holbrook bought a lot and built a four-hundred-dollar house; William B. Walker, five lots, erecting two houses of one-thousand-dollar value; William Lloyd, several lots, erecting buildings valued at $3,300, and Patrick Green, a lot and one-thousand-dollar improvement.
Square Assigned to Mr. Young
The square made by 12th, 13th, Virginia avenue, B and C streets, 29 A. of twenty-four lots, was in 1797 assigned to Mr. Young. In 1794 James Greenleaf and in the following years G. Harrison and S. Sterrett and Morris & Nicholson had title. In 1802 P. Bush had the west half and Mr. Sterrett the balance. Two cents had been reduced to one cent as the value y 1807, and this was the rate for many years. In 1808 Joseph Moyland had a lot on 13th street. From that time until the forties tax deeds were the rule until 1845. In that year W.H. Gunnell owned the west half of the square and J.P. Murphy had lot at 12th and C streets.
Square Owned by Government
The twenty-six lots in square 297, fronting 12th, 13th, C and D streets, were in the division in 1797 vested in the government. In 1794, however, it was a Greenleaf square, with a mortgage to Thomas Law the next year. In 1817 John Law had it, in 1820 W.W. Seaton, in 1821 Overton Law and in 1825 the Bank of Washington. In 1841 H. Wilson had nine lots, which he made and lots A to Q, and Mrs. Sarah Collins bought two on C street, J.F. Caldwell two on D street and P. Green one on 12th street. Later there were improvements made, which came slowly.
Homes of Well Known Residence
Though most of the settlers were working people of the bone and sinew class of the community, and their homes mostly frame houses, it became, by the forties, if not a fashionable neighborhood, one which bore an enviable name. More than a few were known as leading public-spirited citizens, and their work in the city councils and in the various interests of the community made a record which is prized by the descendants of the people of that day. Among the residents in the thirties were William Lloyd, the progenitor of a well known family. He was a leading carpenter, and afterward head of the firm of Harvey, Lloyd & Co., lumber dealers; a member of the common council in the forties; one of the original members of Ryland M.E. Church. Three of his sons were prominent in municipal affairs, two, Asbury and Thomas E., in the councils, and Benjamin F. in the public school trustees, as also his son-in-law, William J. Murtagh. William B. Walker was for many years the leading painter of that section and a man of prominence. The family has made its mark, a son, William T., representing his ward in the councils, and, with his brothers, attaining success in business matters prominent in the brick-making industry. Mr. Murphy was connected with the police and later in life became a justice of the peace.
Commanded Continental Guards
John L. Smith at that time lived on C street, afterward on 12th street. He was a justice of the peace for many years, served several times as an alderman, and in ante-bellum days commanded the Continental Guards.
John Pettibone is well remembered as a dealer in coal, lumber and lime at the foot of 13th street, where he afterward had his icehouses, from which he conducted an extensive business. He, too, was known in military affairs, being an officer in the President's Mounted Guard. For many years he lived at the corner of B and 14th streets.
Among others recalled are Robert Cochran, a clerk in the first controller's office; J.W. Williams of the register's office; W.S. Colquhon, William Lloyd and Arthur Simmons, on B street; Rezin Trunnell, James H. Chisum, E.E. Stark and Joseph Davis, carpenters; Truman Smallwood, huckster; John Gibson, in the fish business; Christopher Gill, plaster, and Daniel Mitchell, tailor; John Moses, Patrick Toomey and the Walkers on C street; George Dale of the sixth auditor's office; C.W. Dunnington, prominent as a printer and also in local politics; John Davidson, carpenter; J.S. Harvey of the grocery on Maryland avenue and 13-1/2 street; N. Whitmore, Patrick and R.A. Green, Mrs. S.S. King, on 13th street; Maj. P.G. Hoyle, United States marines; William McLean, constable; Mrs. Thompson and Thomas Posey, on 14th street; Thomas Rabbitt, on 13-1/2 street, and Mrs. Collins, J.G. Smith, a tailor, and George Grudge, on 12th street. Mrs. Jane Fagan then kept a grocery at the corner of 13-1/2 and C streets.
About 1850 one of the few public schools was established in a small frame building on 12th street between C and D streets. Mrs. Southworth, the novelist, was the teacher here for a time, and had among her pupils many who in after life filled important positions under the government and in the business world.